One fine day, magical space aliens arrived and launched and harpooned an extremely long(100,000 km) and thick(100km radius) spear into somewhere in equatorial Africa, which buried and anchored itself via large barbs. It penetrated 3000km into the Earth. The aliens then left as mysteriously as they arrived.

The spear is made of an alien material, and is indestructibly strong. Efforts to cut out pieces of it for testing or used in any other way has been completely useless. The spear is also clearly strong enough to support its own weight despite its hugenormous size and presumably weight.

A group of philanthropists, including a Elon Musk-expy and Bill Gates-expy then walks up and buys the land surrounding the spear and the spear itself, and they plan to use it as a foundation to build a space elevator.

What are the problems that will be faced for the philanthropists in their efforts to bring space to humanity, in terms of politics? How difficult might it be for them to be able to procure the spear for themselves, or might the government not allow it? Would the country in which the spear landed in be able to have full claims to it?


  • The Spear, being a spear has a grooved grip the entire length of the shaft, which allows for things to be attached to it.
  • The Spear is practically massless. They can't really check if it is actually massless, but nothing too terrible happened
  • The Spear is indestructible, it was magic space aliens who placed it there, after all
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's slippery and smooth how would you attach your devices, if you can't sink screws? If it's meant for that purpose, it might have mounting points and internal structures with form-follows-function appearance, $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Apr 20 '15 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ Just some technical comments: lodging the spear 3,000km into the Earth pushes it almost halfway to the centre of the planet. Far, far, far past anything solid and load bearing in the crust. If the spear is as dense as water, it just increased the Earth's total mass by half a percent. If it was Iron, bump that figure up to about 4%. This might just alter the Earth's orbit, and destroy seasonal weather patterns. Consider scaling it down to 500mm diameter. Then you can climb it by hugging it tightly, and shimmying up. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Apr 20 '15 at 2:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Miscellaneous space junk will whack into your spear on a regular basis. Some of it will have fantastic energies. Just how indestructible do you want your spear to be? There is a maximum theoretical strength chemical bond and we are capable of cutting materials with strength that approach this maximum strength material. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Apr 20 '15 at 4:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In a twist it turns out, that the spear is not solid, but merely a cylinder, which is used as a test tube in an experiment sometime in the future. $\endgroup$
    – M.Herzkamp
    Apr 20 '15 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ This is going to displace all the material in its path. Let me see, 3000km deep, 100km in radius, that works out to about... yep, civilization ending cataclysmic event. I'd guess this would be about the biggest catastrophe since the Moon has formed :D $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Apr 20 '15 at 15:18

Using Newton’s penetration formula,

$$\mathrm{Depth} = \mathrm{Length}\dfrac{\mathrm{Projectile\ Density}}{\mathrm{Object\ Density}}$$

We can find out a lot. The mantle is where most of the rod will be. The mantle’s average density 4.5 grams per cubic centimeter.

$$3000\mathrm{km} = 100000\dfrac{\mathrm{Projectile\ Density}}{4.5\mathrm{g\ cm}^{-3}}$$

Solving, we get

$$3000\mathrm{km} = 100000\dfrac{0.135\mathrm{g\ cm}^{-3}}{4.5\mathrm{g\ cm}^{-3}}$$

The volume of the spear is about $3.14 \times 10^{42} \mathrm{cm}$.

Solving for mass, we get $4.239 \times 10^{41} \mathrm{g}$ or $4.239 \times 10^{39} \mathrm{kg}$.

This is heavy. Its mass is very large. $g = 9.8 \mathrm{m\ s}^{-2}$.

I will spare you the boring math, and tell you that when it hits, it is going at $9129 \mathrm{m\ s}^{-1}$ at least. This is a spear, heavier then the earth, going at Mach 29. The earth definitely won’t be worrying about ownership rights any time soon.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This assumes that the spear was on a balistic path for the duration. If it was being accelerated when embedding itself in the earth then the penetration formula does not apply. $\endgroup$
    – Taemyr
    Apr 20 '15 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how you calculated the volume of the spear, but if you used the formula for a cylinder, which is the best approximation based on the information given, then you'd get 3.14*10^24 cm^3. That would make the mass of the spear (just a little) less than the earth. Granted, this doesn't greatly change the catasrophe of the impact. But I guess this isn't what the OP is asking about. $\endgroup$
    – Seth
    Apr 20 '15 at 16:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Taemyr - While that's true, accelerating it beyond $g$ is unlikely to make things better. $\endgroup$
    – Bobson
    Apr 20 '15 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question made clear that how the spear ended up sticking inside Earth is not relevant to the question and they will hand-wave the physics however necessary to make it happen. What this question is asking about are the political and economical implications. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Apr 21 '15 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ having mass of earth and being 100,000 km long while earth diameter is 12,756km, this thing would disposition mass center and earth would be no longer spinning round but wobbling instead around the combined mass center. $\endgroup$
    – Ski
    Apr 21 '15 at 11:28

The country in which the spear is buried does indeed have full legal rights to control it, with the limitation that it's not clear how high their control extends. National control of airspace follows traditional legal guidelines, but vertical limits are not legally extant. Since no country (to date) has protested satellite overflights, a de facto limit of about 100 miles is probably a safe guess. And it could be less, since force is the coin of sovreignity, and if a country cannot enforce its claims it's pretty much out of luck.

An organization such as the UN might conceivably claim possession of The Spear ("in the name of Humanity"), but would be hard pressed to put together a military force to take possession of it.

And, as a complicating factor, I can't imagine a 100 km diameter object burying itself 3000 km deep would not devastate the surrounding countryside. This would cripple the national government, and as a group the equatorial governments aren't in all that great shape anyways, particularly the African ones.

  • $\begingroup$ "no country has protested satelitte overflight", simply because theres a treaty saying that countries airspace is limited to 100km. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Apr 20 '15 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, as far as I know, there isn't. For instance, the 1967 "Outer Space Treaty", with 104 signatories, never defines outer space, and never sets an altitude limit. If I'm wrong, I'd be pleased if you would provide the name of the treaty. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 '15 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, i believe its the outer space treaty and iirc it defines what "airspace" means. $\endgroup$
    – Jorge Aldo
    Apr 20 '15 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ The thing to look for is the Kármán line, which is at 100 km altitude apparently based on the atmosphere above that altitude being too thin to support airborne operations. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 20 '15 at 16:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JorgeAldo - "all treaties do explicity say that outer space is international. This means that what constitutes airspace and what constitutes outer space is up to science to define. And it is defined as the Kármán line." First, it means no such thing. Legal definitions are accepted either judicially or by legislation. Science may advise, but cannot legally define. Second, the Karman Line is used by the FAI and NASA, but not by the US government. The US Air Force uses 80 km to determine astronaut status. There is no legal or treaty definition as to the altitude which defines outer space. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 '15 at 17:58

There are some very expensive meteorites that fall on earth and can reach some million dollars price. So, most countries are divided between full ownership of the space object by the state or full ownership by whoever citizen happens to find it first. But, as the object is stated as being clearly the result of alien intervention, i believe the principle of national defense and sovereignty would ditact that such object will remain under government control. Regarding such objects - alien objects that are intentionally launched into earth - theres no law nor international treaty. UN does not even recognize the existence of Aliens. When there is no international law, states hold full sovereignty over their territory and claims, and things might very well end up being solved by the force of arms. So, this object will most certainly be retained by government control, until its cleared as safe, not possible to reverse engineer etc. It might be sold to private ownership soon afterwards. I dont know.

Regarding airspace, theres a international treaty that sets the limit of a country airspace into the threshold of the space. At 100km height, on the Kármán line. This same treaty stipulated satellite slots to be distributed among all countries etc. I dont remember the name of the treaty (or treaties).

So, in the event that this object protudes more than 100km above the sea level, it might be considered inside international space. This is a very strange situation indeed and everything that is said is pure speculation.

Satellites circling around the globe are inside international space yet their ownership is not usually questioned. But, one can argue that such satellites were made in the owning country or on another country on behalf of the owning country/company/person, while this object was launched from outside space and part of it never fully entered sovereignty areas of the country at hand. It might be a new kind of superweapon endangering the very existence of humankind etc. So, whenever your international treaties are open to debate, the usual result is: Mighty makes right.

You will end up with someone talking in CNN on how the marvellous United States of America, the land of the brave and the country of the exceptionalism has the right to take over the object, even bombing some terrorist threats that want to hinder the path of human development, democracy and liberty bla bla bla. UN security council is unable to reach a consensus with China sitting over the wall etc. Usual international politics, you know. Some ten years later a new treaty dealing with ownership of alien objects launched on earth is being signed to avoid wars due to the lack of clear laws and treaties about this matter. Later elon musk and bill gates are subcontracted to develop a space elevator using public funds and earn some trillions of dollars out of taxpayer pockets, or if bankrupt they are saved by a government default.

Business as usual.


I hate to spoil this one, but Bill Gates likely won't exist after this thing hits the earth. As Jimmy360's answer says, if the spear truly is a projectile, it will hit the Earth at Mach 29. That impact will cause:

  • a huge crater
  • lots of huge earthquakes
    • lots of also huge tsunamis
  • many deaths

It will likely be decades before everyone has recovered enough to even think about investigating the spear.

However, there is an alternative. If you use the spear not as a projectile, but as a giant mining drill, the effects are less. Essentially, the spear should drill its way into the planet - then it doesn't need to be going at such insane speeds.

With this method, there is still going to be lots of damage, but investigation could start a lot sooner.

The spear would be under the control of the government of whatever country it lands in. However, without wishing to generalise, lots of African governments are corrupt and could likely be swayed to give control of the speared zone to someone else with lots of money. Which is exactly what Bill Gates has.

To actually make the space elevator, since the spear can have things attached to it, they can attach strong steel cables and run an airtight elevator up them.

  • $\begingroup$ The steel cables might be a problem, unless you think about multiple stages. A steel cable would not be strong enough to support it's own weight if it ran the whole length of the pole. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Apr 21 '15 at 14:38

[Can you adjust the size a little to be more pragmatic please, say 500mm to 50m diameter, 1km to 50km deep, 100km (edge of space) to 46,000 km (just below geosync) in height.]

Going back to the key part of the question, what happens next!

It exists, and two or more powerful people/companies/organisations/countries have access to it so no monopoly, and no war.

First the tech would be sorted to provide a movable platform that would get payload up and down with little or no weight constraint. That allows space ships to be built and fueled in orbit, and that allows the exploration and exploitation of space. Making it possible to mine the asteroid belt for raw materials and using high efficiency solar panels for energy, you could have low gravity manufacturing plants in orbit. Everything from cars to pop-corn would be cheaper to make when you don't need the energy to overcome gravity.

Ion type drives would replace rocket motors and without the near earth gravity well to deal with, the weight of radiation shielding stops being a blocker to long haul missions. The irony would be that the alien 'gift' would allow us to travel to other worlds in person, but we couldn't do anything when we got there because we still couldn't overcome gravity wells.

  • $\begingroup$ Geosynchronous Earth equatorial orbit is at about 36,000 km, a tad bit lower than your just above 46,000 km... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 20 '15 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ And to be stable, a space elevator should extend from earth’s surface to geosynchronous orbit, and then the same distance again, @MichaelKjörling. $\endgroup$
    – TRiG
    Apr 20 '15 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @TRiG, actually it would not be the same distance. Without an explicit counterweight the outbound part above GEO would be much longer. $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Apr 20 '15 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TRiG The center of mass of the elevator will be at geosynchronous equatorial orbit altitude, but the construct itself would necessarily extend further. See some of the answers and comments on If we build a space elevator from Earth surface to GEO, could I step off it at GEO and remain in GEO?, for example. Full disclosure: that's my own question. Or just browse Space Exploration's space-elevator tag. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 20 '15 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for the typo. I confused radius with height and got both wrong. I think the OP was clear when they said "magical space aliens" that the physics was not the prime area of interest. Does anyone want to offer suggestions on the social upheavals that low grav manufacturing on a large scale would bring? $\endgroup$
    – Paul Smith
    Apr 21 '15 at 10:14

I think the Earth must have slipped into a dream universe where physics doesn't apply. In particular, even if this object is somehow "practically massless", since it is enormous and indestructible and embedded deep in the planet, in a universe with semi-normal physics, it matters how heavy it is, and whether or not it interacts with gravity at all. In any case, I don't really see any possible answers to such questions, which would result in it continuing to stay in place relative to the spinning, orbiting Earth. It will either sink in or pull out, and it will also twist, causing ridiculously enormous earthquakes and magma eruptions, which as others have pointed out, would also have almost certainly destroyed all life on Earth. Even if something survived the earthquakes and vulcanism caused by the insertion, even less will survive when the thing rips sideways through the crust, and/or out the far side.

So... the good news is, you're in a dream dimension or comic book or anime or something, which is ignoring physics and making it stay like that, for now.

Even if the mass replaced by the spear when it inserted somehow vanished, it will now have some pretty interesting weather effects around it, as the atmosphere will flow around it.

Politics? Ownership? Well that's all speculative. Probably there would be many hypotheses about the aliens and why they put it there. "Hey, let's make it into a space elevator and profit" might eventually be a conclusion after nothing else weird happened for a long time, though there might be another popular point of view saying, "hey, let's not mess with it as clearly the aliens who put it there might not like that, it defies all physics, and who knows what the heck will happen if we do that?" Maybe people would use its African location as an excuse to keep it neutral and not allow anyone to unilaterally seize access. Maybe the local nations would try to get the best bids they could. Realistically, Earth politics has become a puppet act of a group of corporations who own most of the world's wealth and bought officials anyway, though, so any such story would really likely be invented by or actually controlled by such organizations anyway. Perhaps they'd decide to capitalize on space, and develop a new giant industrial complex around the site.

But since we've already proven this must be dream universe, really anything is possible.


I'm going to play the optimist and for the sake of this exercise lets assume the device, with or without immediate major destruction to the planet, was in place and the smoke has finally settled.

Humans are now faced with the fact they are NOT alone in this universe. A realization that most, if not all, of their fundamental (geocentric) beliefs are shattered and will put aside their cultural hate / breed distaste mind set for each other to work as a single species and no longer as many nations.

If the artifact did major damage to the planet humans would most likely decide to quicken the pace to get off this mud hole and start to colonize at least our solar system.

An estimated price tag for an Earth elevator is 6 billion to 20 billion USD using a Nanotechnology that still needs improvements due to current length manufacturing limitations. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator_economics

However the aliens just gave humanity a shortcut and since we no longer need the strength of a single nano-tech tether we can use existing tech such as nano-steel for platforms and tracks. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/534796/nano-manufacturing-makes-steel-10-times-stronger/

Seeing as we have the tech to build a Lunar elevator, bridging the gap between the two rocks would quickly follow. What would a space elevator on the moon be made out of?

Were I a philanthropists leader of the liberated world, I would commission our best to fit super conductor train tracks and power transport by electromagnetism. Powered by the huge space array of solar panels or the nuclear power station bases located at a safe distance from orbit. Or perhaps the generators that use solar winds to function.

Second Scenario If the world politics stay the same for the most part and the philanthropists have difficulty with the politics surrounding land grab attempts of other nations it may be necessary to convince the majority of the world (the 99%) how unrestricted access to space will enrich and enlighten our species and increase our odds of survival. If that doesn't work there is always the scare tactic that we need to be ready for when the aliens return and only we know how to defeat, defend, communicate, etc, with them.

With the resources our philanthropists have there is no doubt that a unifying message can be transmitted to the world and the people would rise and make a change. Perhaps a mass migration to join the philanthropists new nation leaving their countries of birth. Our philanthropists should have no remorse using their resources to build an army for the betterment of humankind. (Federation of Inner Sol Planets.)

If the event were destructive enough and perceived as an alien attack it wouldn't take much for an entity to manipulate the majority to unite under their flag for security.

The area around the space needle would no doubt become a hub of technological advancements and the center of any world power to which the philanthropists should be able to sway in their favor. Celebrity, Propaganda and Financial Resources go along way to building a political following!!!!


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